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English is a West Germanic language that was first spoken in early medieval England and is now a global lingua franca. It is an official language of almost 60 sovereign states and the most commonly spoken language in sovereign states including the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand and a number of Caribbean nations. It is the third-most-common native language in the world, after Mandarin and Spanish. It is widely learned as a second language and is an official language of the European Union and of the United Nations, as well as of many world organisations.
English arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and what is now southeast Scotland. Following the extensive influence of England, Great Britain, and the United Kingdom from the 17th to mid-20th centuries through the British Empire, it has been widely propagated around the world. Through the spread of English literature, world media networks such as theBBC, the American film and television industry, and the internet, English has become the leading language of international discourse and the lingua franca in many regions.
Historically, English originated from the fusion of closely related dialects, now collectively termed Old English, which were brought to the eastern coast of Great Britain by Germanic settlers (Anglo-Saxons) by the 5th century; the word English is simply the modern spelling of englisc, the name used by the Angles and Saxons for their language, after the Angles' ancestral region of Angeln (in what is now Schleswig-Holstein). The language was also influenced early on by the Old Norse language through Viking invasions in the 9th and 10th centuries.
The Norman conquest of England in the 11th century gave rise to heavy borrowings from Norman French: thus a layer of elaborate vocabulary, particularly in the field of governance, and some Romance-language spelling conventions were added to what had by then become Middle English. The Great Vowel Shift that began in the south of England in the 15th century is one of the events that mark the emergence of Modern English.
In addition to native words inherited from Anglo-Saxon, and those borrowed from Norman French, a significant number of English terms are derived from constructions based on roots originally taken from Latin, because Latin in some form was the lingua franca of the Christian Church and of European intellectual life and remains the wellspring of much modern scientific and technical vocabulary.
Owing to the assimilation of words from many other languages throughout history, modern English contains a very large vocabulary, with complex and irregular spelling, particularly of vowels. Modern English has not only assimilated words from other European languages, but from all
over the world. The Oxford English Dictionary lists more than 250,000 distinct words, not including many technical, scientific, and slang terms.
English as a global language
Because English is so widely spoken, it has often been referred to as a "world language", the lingua franca of the modern era, and while it is not an official language in most countries, it is currently the language most often taught as a foreign language. It is, by international treaty, the official language for aeronautical and maritime communications. English is one of the official languages of the United Nations and many other international organisations, including the International Olympic Committee.
This increasing use of the English language globally has had a large impact on many other languages, leading to language shift and even language death, and to claims of linguistic imperialism. English itself has become more open to language shift as multiple regional varieties feed back into the language as a whole.
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